Thursday, January 9, 2014

Classics Lecture Series: Hand Management - UNO

On top of a foreboding discard pile lies a yellow 1. In my hand of five cards, three are valid and I need to choose one. So why do I play the red 1 instead of the yellow 7? And why is Uno, a family and kid friendly game being played competitively by a bunch of college kids? Because, as simple as Uno is­­ - pick cards until you can play a card, be the first to go out ­- the games complexities in hand management make it a worthy experience.
In UNO, the player who wins will do so through playing the hand they were dealt to its maximum efficiently. Playing a hand to its maximum efficiency is more complex than it seems. Hand management games combine concepts highlighted in previous Classics Game Lectures. Good hand management games keep the game simple, smooth, and exciting to play.
Lesson 1: Thinking ahead. There is a heavy element of prediction in UNO that players need to make. While everyone knows what is in the discard pile, you have to guess what your opponents have, made more difficult because each player is not set to a fixed card draw rate. When a player finished drawing for a card to play, you know what they didn't draw, but what they just picked up might change their strategy. At the same time, guessing what cards you are more likely to get informs your own play.  All of this guessing means players are using their hand in an exercise of risk management, bluffing, and seizing the initiative.
Managing risk in UNO means having a variety of colors. This guarantees you have a card to play; but you need to think ahead about the order you play these cards since that decides if you succeed or lose.
Lesson 2: Managing secrete information. Bluffing in UNO is just as important. Constantly switching away from a color makes your opponent think that you don't have the color, when in fact you are saving it for the end. Meanwhile, if you are in a run of the same color it may feel great to be quickly dumping cards, but you might be playing right into your opponents hands.
Lesson 3: Messing with your opponents.  Seizing the initiative is the only way to win. Playing only one card per turn means that through misfortune or the actions of others, it’s easy to get behind.  UNO has a series of special cards that feature a number of ways to harm your opponent you can use to regain initiative.
Skipping, reversing turn order, the dreaded draw cards, and the glorious wilds. It's tempting to use these cards as soon as possible, but used best when held in reserve for changing who is dictating game play.
Hand management games always combines these principals to make tense games with weighty decisions. So, whenever you are deciding which dig site your opponent is really going for in Lost Cities. Choosing what building to build, and which to use as currency in San Juan. Or, picking the perfect time to launch that attack in The Aries Project. They all take the predictive skills, risk taking, bluffing, and timing necessary to win.

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